Every year the draft comes and goes with analysts and draftniks alike rushing to put a letter grade on each teams draft, despite the overwhelming fact that it will take years to determine their level of success. Instead of attempting to predict the future, the goal is to analyze various aspects of each divisions draft class. Focusing on which players are in the most advantageous positions and which players could be looking at struggles. Next up, the NFC North:
Top Contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year
Eddie Lacy – RB, Green Bay Packers #61 Overall
After an injury plagued off-season pushed Eddie Lacy to the bottom of the 2nd round on draft day, Packers GM Ted Thompson was more than happy to cushion his fall. Eddie Lacy is the front runner to win the feature back job behind Aaron Rodgers and hopefully bring a much needed balance to the Packers dynamic offense. While the former Crimson Tide back is lacking in top end speed, he has fantastic feet for a back his size and is under-rated as a receiver. Lacy has the versatility to be an every down back and as an added bonus, the size to wear defenses down while controlling the clock to protect a lead. With the defensive focus teams are forced to place on Aaron Rodgers and the passing game, Lacy could rack up huge numbers in 2013 and make a strong case for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Top Contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year
Jon Bostic – LB, Chicago Bears #50 Overall
While many consider replacing a legend like Brian Urlacher as the Chicago Bears starting middle linebacker to be an un-enviable task, the truth is that Jon Bostic could not have asked for a better situation. The only competition for Bostic at middle linebacker will be DJ Williams, the 30 year old former Denver Bronco who is coming off of the worst season of his career and is a more natural fit on the outside. Julius Peppers and Henry Melton lead a dominant front four while Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman headline the talented back 7 of a Bears team which finished 5th in total defense in 2012. Surrounded by veteran talent, the fast and physical Bostic will be a candidate to lead the team in tackles while making the occasional bone jarring hit that he was known for at the University of Florida. It is uncommon for a rookie to spear head a playoff caliber defensive attack, but Bostic is in an excellent position to do so.
Best Schematic Fit
Cordarrelle Patterson – WR, Minnesota Vikings #29 Overall
Cordarrelle Patterson is not a typical wide receiver, far from it actually. A unique talent with a still developing skill set, the franchise and scheme that he would be drafted into could make or break his career before it even started. Luckily for Patterson, the Vikings traded back into the first round and selected the Tennessee standout to replace wide receiver Percy Harvin. The Vikings offense was already set up to accommodate Harvin’s unique skillset and after the Vikings traded talented veteran to Seattle for the #25 pick and what turned out to be cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the move to secure Patterson was a no brainer. Like Harvin, Patterson is capable of lining up all over the field and is a threat to reach the end zone every time he touches the football. He has a long way to go before he becomes a true #1 wide receiver, but he will benefit from having veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings working alongside him every day. In the meantime, the Vikings and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will know exactly how to use him.
Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes – DT and CB, Minnesota Vikings #23 and #25 Overall
Coming off of a disappointing playoff loss, the Vikings headed into the 2013 off-season knowing that they needed to get HC Leslie Frazier some defensive help in order to take the next step in Super Bowl contention. After failing to add a single impact free agent on the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings used two of their three first round picks on a pair of prospects from the state of Florida. Florida Gator defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and Florida State Seminole cornerback Xavier Rhodes are being heavily counted on to quickly establish starting roles and immediately improve the Vikings defense. Floyd will have an easier path considering pro bowl caliber players defensive end Jared Allen and defensive tackle Kevin Williams will attract most of the attention. Rhodes on the other hand could wind up covering the oppositions #1 wide receiver each week due to his favorable size and athleticism. Given the general youth and lack of cornerback talent in the Vikings secondary, he could have a rough year ahead of him.
Under the Radar Impact
Khaseem Greene – LB, Chicago Bears #117 Overall
One of the most instinctive and productive outside linebackers available in the 2013 NFL draft, Khaseem Greene falling to the drafts final day was puzzling to many but a blessing for Chicago. The 6’1 240 lb. Rutgers star was a one man wrecking crew for the Scarlett Knights this season, leading the team in tackles, sacks, and forced fumbles. Greene is the type of player that coaches love and is nearly impossible to keep off of the field. He is a tackling machine with true playmaking ability and with the Bears starting jobs at strong side linebacker and middle linebacker open for competition, don’t be surprised if Greene winds up running with the first team at some point in 2013. The Bears defense could use a little youth and athleticism at linebacker and Greene looks to join fellow rookie Jon Bostic in leading the Bears defense into the future.
Kyle Long – OG, Chicago Bears #20 Overall
While Kyle Long is a talented athlete with great size and fantastic potential, he was a very questionable first round selection for a number of reasons. For starters, Long had substance abuse issues which derailed his baseball and academic career at Florida State and he will most likely be enrolled in the leagues substance abuse program immediately. It is also uncommon for guards to be drafted in the first round, unless they are truly elite players which is something Long has yet to prove. Finally, Long only has 10 starts at the division I level under his belt, coming at both tackle and guard. Versatility is nice, but having more production at a single position is definitely preferred. Kyle Long may turn out to be an excellent NFL player and a great pick by the Bears and GM Phil Emery, but to reach on a guard prospect with that much risk involved does not make much sense.
Highest Bust Potential
Ezekial “Ziggy” Ansah – DE, Detroit Lions #5 Overall
As the Detroit Lions looked towards the 2013 NFL Season, they knew that defensive end was a position of serious need. Both starting defensive ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch were headed elsewhere due to financial reasons and with little to no depth behind them, Detroit was almost forced to draft a defensive end early. “Ziggy” Ansah might have the highest ceiling of any rookie entering the league this season, but he also carries some of the biggest questions of any first year player as well. He played very little for the BYU program until this season, and during this season he moved around quite a bit and played everywhere on the defensive line including nose tackle and was also used as a linebacker. While he was occasionally disruptive, he was not a very productive player. After coaching him for a week in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl, the Lions fell in love with Ansah’s potential and used the 5th pick in the draft on the former track and field star from Ghana. His build and style of play make him a fit as a strong side end and lining up next to Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley should create plenty of one on one looks for Ansah and hopefully ease his transition into the NFL, but the Lions can only hope that his impressive athletic talents can translate on the football field.
Best 2nd Round Pick
Darius Slay – CB, Detroit Lions #36 Overall
The Lions drafted Darius Slay at the top of round 2 to pair with Chris Houston and eventually be their #1 cornerback. Slay is a talented athlete with proto-type size and excellent speed, and unlike many corners he plays physically and will aggressively help in run support. Slay may get off to a slow start due to arthroscopic knee surgery keeping him out of OTA’s, but once caught up to speed he should quickly climb up the depth chart and settle into a starting role.
Best 3rd Round Pick
Larry Warford – OG, Detroit Lions #65 Overall
One of the most dominant run blockers in the country, Larry Warford looks to instantly upgrade Matt Stafford’s protection as well as create running lanes for free agent addition Reggie Bush. The 6’3, 330 lb. road grader was one of the best blockers in the SEC a year ago and looks to bring his nasty demeanor to a Detroit offensive line who has struggled to generate push in the running game. Warford will step into the starting line up immediately at right guard between center Dominic Raiola and either Jason Fox or Corey Hilliard at right tackle.
Best 4th Round Pick
Jonathan Franklin – RB, Green Bay Packers #125 Overall
After a record setting career at UCLA, Jonathan Franklin has some early buzz as a potential day 2 pick. GM Ted Thompson gladly took the talented and versatile Bruin running back to provide a change of pace to the more powerful Eddie Lacy whom Green Bay took two rounds prior. While Franklin is smaller than a typical every down back, he offers a complete skill set and has shown some kick return ability in early OTA’s. Ted Thompson did a very nice job of a turning a position of weakness into a potential strength, and the team clearly has plans for Franklin.
Best 5th Round Pick
Jeff Locke – P, Minnesota Vikings #155
The Vikings used their 5th round pick on UCLA’s Jeff Locke to be their starting Punter as well as their kick-off specialist. The talented Locke has a powerful leg and should be a tremendous weapon in the field position game for Minnesota. Locke will play in optimum conditions at least 9 games a year as the Vikings and Lions both play in Domes, but his booming leg strength will be able to handle the elements he will face in late season games at Chicago and Green Bay.
Best 6th Round Pick
Cornelius Washington – DE, Chicago Bears #188
Overshadowed while playing out of position in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense at Georgia, Cornelius Washington’s production did not match his impressive physical ability. At 6’4, 265 lbs, The Bears plan to play Washington at his more natural left end position where he has a chance to showcase more of his athleticism playing on the edge while fighting to earn playing time in the Bears defensive end rotation. Washington was regularly mocked as early as the 3rd and 4th round after blowing up the combine and turning heads with his athleticism.
Best 7th Round Pick
Michael Mauti – LB, Minnesota Vikings #213 Overall
A steady and instinctive linebacker for Bill O’Brian and the Nittany Lions, Michael Mauti has an excellent opportunity to compete for snaps at middle linebacker where his main competition will be coming from 2012 7th rounder Audie Cole. After losing Jasper Brinkley in free agency, Minnesota failed to land an experienced middle linebacker and appears comfortable moving forward with a youth movement on the inside. Mauti was considered a day 2 possibility before an ACL tear ended his season early in November, and may start the season on the reserve/PUP list although he claims that he will be “absolutely” ready for camp. Mauti should make his initial mark on special teams, but could eventually work his way into the starting line up.
UDFA Most Likely to Earn a Roster Spot
Joseph Fauria – TE, Detroit Lions
It is a bit of a shock to many that a 6’7 260 lb. tight end, with 4.7 speed, a 35 inch vertical leap while producing over 600 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior at UCLA could go undrafted. Especially in todays game where athletic tight ends who create mismatches are becoming important pieces of NFL offenses. Joseph Fauria went undrafted due to his inability to block as well as a questionable work ethic, and the Lions were wise to make him a priority UDFA signing. Tony Scheffler is entering a contract year in Detroit, so the Lions would like to see Fauria emerge as a candidate to replace him in 2014, the early returns have been promising as Fauria was one of the standouts in Detroit’s rookie mini-camp.